Let us anticipate a more competitive and more entertaining Serie A this season, as big name players have arrived. Last year, stars like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Lavezzi joined the nouveau riche PSG. The financial difficulties of their clubs forced them to sell their best players and, consequently, the departures reduced the competition’s prestige and teams’ competitiveness in European competition.
The situation in this summer transfer market has changed. The Serie A clubs now get results for the tight-money policies they have employed in recent years. To this point, Italian clubs have dominated the big name signings, while Premier League and La Liga clubs are still negotiating with their targets.
After Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente arrived at Juventus, the highly-rated Dutch midfielder Kevin Strootman penned a five-year contract with AS Roma. He refused other big clubs’ offers, such as Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, to join the capital city side. Internazionale, Fiorentina and especially Napoli have also been doing a great job in reinforcing their squads. With the arrival of three Spanish players, Gonzalo Higuain and Dries Mertens under coach Rafael Benitez, Il Partenopei are more than ready to compete in the scudetto race and Champions League.
However, the arrival of those big names could only be completed after the clubs sold other players. Both Roma and Napoli sold Marquinhos and Edinson Cavani for huge prices respectively, while Juventus sold Emanuele Giaccherini before they sealed transfer of Angelo Ogbonna. Financial Fair Play rules have changed the way the clubs behave in spending their money, as they now often need to sell a player before they buy.
While the other teams are busy, AC Milan have remained calm. Their movements in this summer’s market are very slow; only Andrea Poli and Jherson Vergara have arrived, as Riccardo Saponara’s transfer had been finalised in last winter’s break. Milan failed to reach an agreement with Santos about Robinho, and thus couldn’t negotiate with Fiorentina regarding Adem Ljajic. Currently, they are also in talks with CSKA Moscow in order to reduce Keisuke Honda’s price. Both Ljajic and Honda are not actually too expensive, but the financial condition of the Rossoneri makes them both very tight targets.
The recent injuries to Daniele Bonera – out for at least three months – and Robinho – whose recovery period is yet to be determined – may change everything. Although both players were not first choice in the regular starting XI last season, it forces Milan to take further action in the transfer market, and soon. The club now are linked with Argentinian defender Mathias Silvestre, who plays for city rivals Internazionale, to replace Bonera, while Robinho’s issue may expedite the discussions over Honda.
Milan are known for their last minute movement, as they usually wait until the last day of transfer window to acquire their targets. That may result costing them a minimal price, a loan-to-buy option, or other favourable scheme, but now, as they have an important Champions League play-off match in mid-August, they have to buy at least two players to replace Bonera and Robinho beforehand. Failure to qualify for the group stages would cost them a great amount of money from TV revenues, prize money and gate receipts.
During their pre-season matches against Juventus, Sassuolo and Valencia, Milan seem to have found their balance. They performed well in those three matches with solid midfield displays, and Nigel De Jong’s return from injury further boosts their options in the centre; he stabilises the engine room and makes Andrea Poli comfortable alongside him in the mezz’ala role. When Riccardo Montolivo returns, they will form a formidable trio that will ensure high ball retention.
If Kevin-Prince Boateng remains at Milan, it would be fantastic if Max Allegri plays him as mezz’alla. He’s got enough strength and a work-rate that makes him an excellent player, as we saw in his brilliant performance during the second leg of the Coppa Italia tie against Juventus last season. Silvio Berlusconi has stated his wish to see Milan play with a 4-3-1-2 formation, and his wishes are commands to everyone at the club.
To play 4-3-1-2, Milan need an excellent trequartista. They already have Saponara for that position, but handing the youngster such a big responsibility may not be wise, meaning that Honda’s quick arrival is a must; and they cannot wait until January. Allegri needs to learn from his experience last season when he played Boateng in such a role. The lack of creativity shown by the Ghanaian caused Milan trouble in the final third, and therefore costs them in slow starts, an issue that will not be tolerated this season.